The baited trap of Initiative 976 awaits voters on the Nov. 5 ballot. Its beguiling promise of cheap car registrations carries destructive consequences statewide. Voters should reject it.
Serial initiative promoter Tim Eyman crafted this proposal to eviscerate transportation solutions chosen by gridlocked communities across our state.
As Election Day approaches to decide the $30 car-registration question, the allure of I-976 ads has sown confusion. Dozens of Seattle Times Opinion readers asked how — and why — statewide voters face an all-or-nothing proposal to slash more than 60 locally approved transportation plans, from commuter train networks to sidewalk repairs.
Separately, Eyman faces a courthouse reckoning over how he has shuffled money between campaign accounts and, via kickbacks identified by a state judge, into his own pockets. While that hangs over his head, he wrote I-976 to tap into voters’ frustration with pricey car tabs, as he first did with I-695 in 1999.
Under current law, the base car-tab price he proposes remains at $30 after I-695 passed, but the Legislature added fees to cover expenses including the State Patrol and highway construction. I-976 zeroes out these and more. The Legislature also allowed city- and county-level leaders to fund local roads and transit with car-tab surcharges. In 61 rural and metropolitan jurisdictions across the state, officials have chosen this fee and are locally accountable to taxpayers. I-976 would toss aside their decisions as collateral damage in Eyman’s targeting of Sound Transit.
Because I-976 would change the state law covering all car-tab fees, voters hundreds of miles from Puget Sound can weigh in. But the most sweeping consequences are in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, where the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax adds hundreds of dollars to registration fees to fund voter-approved Sound Transit expansion. This tax needs careful reform, not a napalm solution.
As one reader asked: “The big question is why legislators didn’t fix the MVET before this groundswell resurfaced. What’s the rationale for not using fair market value, or for taxing vehicles at different rates, at all?”
The Legislature’s failure to adjust the valuation method to figure the MVET led directly to Eyman’s opportunity for I-976. The method Sound Transit uses often inflates the value of many vehicles over their actual value, which spurred a public outcry. Lawmakers should have reformulated the tax to better reflect car values and made careful study of the possibilities for doing so — including whether a condition-and-mileage valuation is viable.
Instead, leaving the MVET unchanged provided Eyman with an opening for overblown rhetoric. His campaign for I-976 accuses the tax of being “dishonest.” The dishonesty is Eyman’s.
Another reader asked: “People, products, services. All have to be moved as efficiently as possible, unless we bring in a state tax, how else could all this be paid for?”
That is the basis on which voters must reject I-976. The state’s transportation needs are too pressing to zero out a mechanism that creates better infrastructure. The Legislature must also heed the traction of I-976 and create an MVET the public trusts.